Virtua Tennis 2009 Review
Xbox 360 | PS3 | Wii | PC
Virtua Tennis 2009 box art
System: Wii, X360, PS3, PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: Sumo Digital 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: SEGA 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Jun. 9, 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-4 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Everyone 3.5 - 3.9 = Good

NOTE: The portions of this review pertaining to MotionPlus have been modified, as well as the final score. In researching the original version, we used the accessory incorrectly.

In sports games, the promise of the Wii is to re-create, in your living room, something very close to the actual experience of competition. Wii Sports gave a little bit of a taste as to what that might mean for tennis, but until Virtua Tennis 2009, few developers tried to flesh out that simple mini-game into a well-rounded experience. The new game is very good, and kudos to SEGA for taking the effort to integrate motion controls into a multiplatform release.

Virtua Tennis 2009 screenshot

Without the new MotionPlus accessory, we were left feeling like we'd rather play on a normal controller, though the game was still a solid step up from Wii Sports. With MotionPlus, the game took far more getting used to than we would have liked, but after the introductory phase, it was one of the most natural-feeling video games we've ever played.

Sans MotionPlus, here's how the setup works. Whenever your opponent hits a ball, a white indicator begins traveling across your screen (from right to left if you're positioned to hit forehand, the opposite for backhand). The indicator moves across a meter with a white line in the middle, and when you swing the controller the indicator stops. If you miss the meter entirely, you whiff, and if you hit the white line, you hit the ball toward the middle of the court. If you hit the meter on the left or right side of the white line, you'll hit the ball toward the left or right respectively. (It's something like the reloading system in the Gears of War games.) The speed and direction at which you swing, whether or not you hold down the A and B buttons, and the angle at which you twist your arm all affect the type of shot you end up with. You can turn off the assist, and just try to eyeball when to swing, but we do not recommend doing this until you've gotten the feel of the game.

This system is good, but it's not great. Unlike a button press, a motion is not over in an instant, so it's rather difficult to tell when to start your swing to hit the right part of the meter. The game has a propensity to misinterpret flinches and wind-ups as swings. To hit the ball softly, you have to move the controller unbelievably gently, making precision even more difficult than it is already. For any given shot, it makes no difference whether you swing the Wii-mote in a forehand or backhand motion. It doesn't take too long to get used to these quirks, and once you do you can really cream your opponents, but the constant need to worry about how the Wii might misinterpret your inputs really hurts the immersion.

Virtua Tennis 2009 screenshot

However, one of the bigger deals with VT2009 is its MotionPlus compatibility. If you plan to play the game this way, the first thing you'll want to do is make sure the game is actually paying attention to the accessory. For some reason, the developers decided not only to hide this option, but to make it really inconvenient to use. On the screen before each and every match, you have to choose whether you're right- or left-handed, and also click an arrow to change the control scheme from the default to MotionPlus. Then, at the beginning of each match, you have to point the Wii-mote at a dot on the screen. So far as we can tell, this calibrates the angle at which you're holding the remote (if you twist it to the side a little bit, it feels more like a tennis racket, but the A and B buttons are harder to access). Needless to say, it would be nice if the game could just remember that you're, say, a MotionPlus-using leftie who holds the Wii-mote like a racket.

Once you get going, though, the difference is clear. The game pays a lot more attention to whether you're swinging forehand or backhand. MotionPlus recognizes special shots more easily, and the artificial visual aid is gone (though for some reason, you can still set it to "on" in the options). It's a much more immersive experience, and one that makes us optimistic about the future of MotionPlus.

Virtua Tennis 2009 screenshot

The MotionPlus scheme poses some unique challenges, however, and we hope future games will offer more fluid and accessible gameplay. As is the case with the default setup, you can choose whether to control your character's feet with the Nunchuk or to let the computer A.I. handle it; however, when you have the Nunchuk unplugged and MotionPlus on, winding up for a forehand or backhand shot can affect where your character goes. Until you get used to this, your character's movements can look pretty awkward. If you start swinging too early or late, or if you swing in the wrong direction, the game will sometimes forgive you and sometimes make you flub the shot in various ways. Finally, learning to serve is much harder than it needs to be, and until you do learn, you can plan on losing a fair number of points to double-faults.

Screenshots / Images
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